Many roll-feeding cutters cost more than Makers will want to spend for such a material-specific tool. They’re priced to be workhorses for professional sign shops. But if you’re willing to fiddle and fuss with USCutter’s MH series, you can get clean cuts and basic functionality for thousands less in a more professional form factor than the craft cutters we reviewed for this year’s Digital Fabrication Guide. These discount cutters require much more attention and care than the premium versions. “You get what you pay for” applies, but so does “if you can fix it, you truly own it.”
Not only was this the lowest cost option in this class — around the price of one of the Silhouette Cameo bundles — this starter kit with stand and accessories ships with a license for the excellent cutter control software Sure Cuts A Lot Pro v3. Given that “SCAL Pro” retails for $250, it felt like we got the cutter for free with the price of the software purchase. Officially, this cutter is PC only, but we were able to make it work on a Mac with third party USB to serial hardware and SCAL Pro. However, you are on your own to troubleshoot the additional hardware needed to allow a reliable serial connection.
While this dirt-cheap shop cutter held up well against the well-regarded craft cutters we tested, it was not without challenges. The first arose when we halted an in-progress cut and attempted to line up the cutter to resume another series of small cuts within the remaining patch of pristine vinyl. We had difficulty adjusting the start position and before/after cut feed to place the design where we wanted it, even after several attempts. Checking the forums and product comments online, we read other accounts of similar difficulties. The ability for the cutter to start a job in a chosen position and/or optically recognize objects or cut marks on the material are considered premium features, and ships with the higher end vinyl sign cutters.
Additionally, it is crucial that you take your time adjusting the tension and placement of the pinch-rollers. Failure to do so can lead to your materials wrinkling, buckling, and tearing. You want the rollers firm enough for a good grip on the material, but not so firm that the material is crushed and deformed. With these configured correctly, speed and pressure adjustments can be assessed more easily, leading to more accurate, and potentially much longer, cuts.
Makers willing to roll up their sleeves to get to know the machine and master the fussy pinch rollers may find that they have the best of both worlds: A hobby cutter that can cut small things nearly as well as a dedicated desktop craft cutter, but still cuts large things nearly as well as an expensive sign shop vinyl cutter.